Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends
How new technologies are modifying our way of life

mardi 31 août 2004

At least, the founders of Tableau Software, a small company established in 2003 and based in Seattle, come from Stanford University, where they worked down the hall with Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin back in 1997. In "Tableau making name for itself," the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes that Tableau intends to make structured databases easy to use the way did Google with unstructured data. So the company is turning databases into easy-to-generate graphics. Tableau doesn't say who are its customers, but claims that it has more than 100 installations and that it's already profitable. This graphical data mining tool runs on desktops and costs $1,000 per user for a standard edition and $1,600 per user for a professional version.

Here are the goals of this ambitious new company.

Started as a government research project on the Stanford campus seven years ago, the team behind Tableau worked down the hall from Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In fact, the two companies share more than a common address, co-founder and CEO Christian Chabot said. [He's a Stanford Ph.D. who spent the past five years studying databases at the university.]
"We are like the sister company of Google in some sense, and I want to say that lightly so it is not misinterpreted," Chabot said. "But Google was trying to make unstructured databases easy to use, and Tableau was founded to make structured databases easy to use."
interface for "old-fashioned" databases such as Oracle, SQL Server and Excel while Google's technology is built for unstructured data on the Internet, he said.

[Note: Saying that Microsoft Excel is a database product is a little bit excessive, even if many people are using it for this purpose.]

Anyway, the goal is to make 'real' databases easy to use. Here is what Tableau is doing.

For example, a large grocery-store chain is currently using the Tableau software to create graphical views of sales information from individual stores. The software helps financial analysts quickly determine which stores are underperforming, Chabot said.
"It turns out a picture is worth 1,000 words," said Chabot, who granted his first media interviews yesterday. "We drove a spike from the field of information visualization right into the heart of the database industry."
About 100 customers are using the software, ranging from individual scientists to large Fortune 500 corporations. Chabot declined to disclose customers, but said the recent financing will be used to add sales and marketing staff. The company turned a profit in January, one month after the Visual Spreadsheet product was released. The software, which can be downloaded in minutes, costs $1,000 per user for a standard edition and $1,600 per user for a professional version.

You can find several examples of the way the software works on this page or on the product fact sheet (PDF format, 4 pages, 1.02 MB). Below is an example of database drilling. (Credit: Tableau Software)

An example of database drilling

Will this company be successful and become another Google? First, graphical data mining has never been a big hit. And second, there are lots of competitors in the business intelligence sector, including at least Business Objects, Cognos, Hyperion and MicroStrategy. So make your bets and wait for the next multibillion-dollar IPO.

Sources: John Cook, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 31, 2004; Tableau Software website

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